Retail Marketing Consultant, Mary Portas has published an independent review into the future of our high streets, with the goal of breathing economic and community life back into our high streets and town centres. Portas begins the report by noting that she wants to put the heart back into the centre of our high streets, re-imagining them as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning.
To achieve this, Portas noted that high streets must be ready to experiment, try new things, take risks and become destinations again. She added that the new high streets won’t just be about selling goods, but a mix that will include shops but could also include housing, offices, sport, schools or other social, commercial and cultural enterprises and meeting places. They should become places where we go to engage with other people in our communities, where shopping is just one small part of a rich mix of activities, Portas states.
Amongst her many recommendations in the report are these intriguing suggestions:
- Put in place a “Town Team”: a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets. They should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe
- Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not
- Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers
- Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table
- Introduce Secretary of State “exceptional sign off ” for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an “affordable shops” quota
- Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers
The report, which is 55 pages long and has already become the number one trending topic on Twitter, has already received the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron, who commissioned the report. He comments: “The high street should be at the very heart of every community, bringing people together, providing essential services and creating jobs and investment; so it is vital that we do all that we can to ensure they thrive.
“I am delighted that Mary Portas has produced such a clear vision of how we can create vibrant and diverse town centres and breathe life back into our high streets. The Government will now review Mary’s recommendations and we will publish our response next spring.”
Reaction from other observers has been mixed to say the very least, with one detractor interestingly commenting: “With shopping habits changing, stores need to think about multi-channel to drive footfall - not free parking and bus fares.”
Whilst highlighting external factors (such as parking costs) reveals just how many obstacles high street stores face when competing with e-commerce, there is also the risk that retailers may simply blame their dwindling sales on such factors – without every truly analysing their own performance and focusing on what they’re doing to remain competitive.
Whilst the ‘high street of the future’ visualised by Portas in the report may seem ideal, the reality is that it may not come to fruition for a long time yet. Thus, retailers shouldn’t become distracted by this review, and should pro-actively take matters into their own hands to ensure long-term success and viability.